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Arson not likely in fire at Jerusalem office of leftist NGO: fire dept.

Firefighters inside the charred offices of the B'Tselem NGO, Jerusalem on January 10 2016
Jerusalem Fire Department
Opposition lawmakers slam Netanyahu's 'incitement' against human rights NGOs

An electrical short-circuit is likely the cause of a fire that broke out on Sunday evening at the offices of the B'Tselem information center for human rights in Jerusalem's Talpiot neighborhood, the fire department said on Monday. The fire was initially suspected to be a case of arson.

The fire department arrived at the building of the controversial left-wing organization around 10:00 p.m. local time, and managed to contain the fire, extinguishing it by 11:30 p.m. The offices were left almost completely charred by the blaze.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Jerusalem's fire department reported that the fire spread from two separate ignition points, both located on the first floor, where B'Tselem's offices are.

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One person was evacuated from the scene with light injuries, Israel's Army Radio reported. Officials denied initial reports that people were trapped on the upper floors of the building.

The Jerusalem police department launched an investigation into the incident.

Established in 1989 by a group of academics, attorneys, journalists, and Knesset members, B'Tselem's self declared goal is to "document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations" in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as well as to promote a "human rights culture" in Israel.

The NGO has often butted heads with Netanyahu's government.

In January of 2015 the group criticized the government for what it called a deliberate policy of launching air strikes on homes that killed hundreds of civilians during 2014's Gaza war.

In August of 2014, the Israel Broadcast Authority banned a broadcast produced by the NGO, which listed the names of Palestinian children killed in Gaza during the summer war, because of its "political nature."

Following the fire, the leftist NGO released a short statement saying it does not know whether the fire represents an arson attack, yet if it does, the incident should be seen in the context of incitement against leftist NGOs by Israeli officials and groups.

Last month Israeli ministers endorsed contentious draft legislation to toughen rules on rights groups which receive funds from abroad, the justice minister said, in a move left-wing NGOs have called a witch-hunt.

The bill's sponsor, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, cited B'Tselem among other groups she said were at the forefront of "blatant interference in internal Israeli affairs by foreign governments."

Leftist lawmakers and activists accused the hawkish government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of stoking up anti-leftist sentiments.

Joint Arab List chair Ayman Odeh charged that the Netanyahu administration has issued "a campaign of incitement against human rights groups.”

His party associate MK Dov Hanin said that "much" points to arson, adding such development was "scary but not in the least surprising".

See also - Israeli ministers approve NGO-foreign funding bill

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